Mini-Reviews, November 2010 Edition

I have the bad habit of starting a book, not finishing it, then starting another, and another, and another…ad nauseum. This is especially bad when I’m working on something really intensive, like Rigor Amortis. I seriously can have 20 books in various stages of being read.

The good thing about this method is that when I get down to reading, books fall likes dominoes. Or leaves. Or something. The other bad thing is that then I have 15 books to review, all at once. Because I am terrible at reviews, and have just wrapped up reviews for some other places, you only get mini-reviews here!

Anthologies

I love anthologies. I like magazines because they are like mini-anthologies*. (And because they are wonderful, but that’s beside the point here.) I also get lots and lots of anthologies, for various reasons.

Most recently:

Clarkesworld’s REALMS: The first year of Clarkesworld Magazine
Edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace
Wyrm Publishing
Bought at ReaderCon

The cover is beautiful, and it is an excellent way to get a good, overall feel for Clarkesworld. 24 stories, some from award-winning short-story authors, and some from relatively new names.

I read this one by the hodgepodge method: one story a night, whatever looked good. I won’t get into every story here, but a couple stuck with me pretty thoroughly.

Third Bear, by Jeff Vandermeer: Having met Jeff, and having read his longer fiction, and loving New Weird, and having heard about Third Bear, I wasn’t about to let this one sit around unread. Definitely not disappointed. Third Bear is a creepy, twisted tale, but the heart of it is surprisingly pointed and human.

I’ll Gnaw Your Bones, The Manticore Said, by Cat Rambo: I’m a guilty fan of circus-troupe stories, and a fan of Cat’s fiction, so this one was pretty much a give-away. But seriously, go find Cat’s stories. They are worth a few extra moments.

The Taste of Wheat, by Ekaterina Sedia: A lovely new fairytale. Instead of a creature wanting to become a person, a woman wants to become a mouse. Refreshing and poignant.

Interesting observation: Clarkesworld appears to like first-person narrative. 11 of the stories are first-person.

Final thoughts: I do recommend this, with a caveat: If you like rousing space battles, tearing adventures or light, funny reads, don’t pick this up. It is a much quieter, more literary collection of fiction. There’s a fair bit of both SF and Fantasy in here, a big pinch of New Weird, and lots of talent. It would also be an excellent gift.

Demons: A Clash of Steel anthology
Edited by Jason Waltz
Rogue Blades Entertainment

In absolute, total contrast to the collection above, we have the red-blooded Heroic Adventure of Rogue Blades’ latest anthology. I reviewed Rage of the Behemoth last year, and was happy to pick up Demons this year. Jason continues to have a good eye for the genre, without falling into a rut.

Bodyguard of the Dead, by C.L. Werner: This is Werner’s second Shintaro Oba story. The first one was one of my mentioned favorites in Behemoth, so I was happy to see this one stand up to the first one. Japanese mythology lends itself really, really well to S&S. (hint, hint authors!)

Blood Ties, by Trista Robichaud: Strong female leads, a hellish fortress and a maiden to save from a very human monster. More, please.

By Hellish Means, by Bill Ward: Another strong woman! This is absolutely classic Sword and Sorcery, in my opinion: fast-paced, morally ambiguous hero, hellish opponents, an uncertain outcome, a heroic sacrifice. There. That’s all you get from me, before I start spoilers!

Of interest: Almost half of the main characters are women, who kick as much (or more) ass as any guy. In a sub-genre that sometimes fails to pay attention to strong female characters, this was a nice discovery. Behemoth also had female protagonists, but fewer, and I think Demons does a better job with some of them.

Recommendation: Rogue Blades has a finger on the Heroic Fantasy genre. Blending classic pulp (the look of the book, the basic elements of the stories) with a modern sensibility (deeper characterization, female leads, etc.), this is a good collection for the classic S&S fan. I’d also recommend it for older teens.

Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands
Random House
Edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner
Coming out: 2011

Far and away the best treasure I hauled back from World Fantasy, for several reasons. I love the original Urban Fantasies and mythologies. You know: the stuff that isn’t a thin disguise for paranormal romance?** Charles de Lint continues to be one of the few authors who gets an automatic shift to the top of my reading pile***, and anything with that flavor does well by me, although I have a hard time finding it. So, in essence, this collection is my reading list for the next year or two. (Interestingly, this book threw the same sort of wrench into my life that Moonheart and Running With the Demon did.)

I’ll be rereading this book, to be sure. For now, I’m skipping a more in-depth review, because it would have to be very in depth. All I can say: I wish this sort of book was more ‘in fashion’. There’s an emotional reality to these stories that is too often missed in fantasy and SF, and I think that might be a very great tragedy.

Don’t miss this book when it releases. It is thick, beautiful, and it has Names, but that’s missing the point.

Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia
Darl Quest Books
Edited by Jason Sizemore

Yes, I’m alternating these intentionally. Dark Futures is exactly what it sounds like: we fucked up, and now we’ve got *this*. The worst part is that too many of these stories ring entirely too true. I actually had to skip Jennifer Pelland’s Personal Jesus, because I understand that sort of religion all too well, and the thought of it becoming the ruling force terrifies me more than any monster. Congrats, Jason, you scared the Zombie Queen.

The best part is how human these stories are. They are set in dystopia, certainly, but the characters all respond in different ways, maintain their humanity, and adapt to their worlds. There is also a surprising range of ways in which the world is screwed up, and how humanity responded. From body-traveling monks (Natania Barron) to germaphobes in cyber-castles (Michele Lee), the future is actually a pretty interesting place. Sara M. Harvey’s A Marketing Proposal is simply horrifically brilliant.

Of interest: Not much dystopia actually has nature in ascendancy, but there are several stories in here where humans go away and the world keeps going.

Recommendation: Well, it won’t put the cheer in the holidays, but it is an eye-catching book that backs up both title and cover with solid fiction. Also good for converting the cheerful Utopian. Wait, did I say that?

Wheeeee! That’s the anthologies. The books are going to be shorter. Books are nice to review. (This is code for: the last few books I’ve written proper reviews for were anthologies.)

Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine: Ok, it has romance, but it wasn’t all about the romance, and the romance wasn’t with a werewolf or vampire, so I’m ok. More seriously: this is the first of the Weather Warden series, and I really hope the rest are this good, because I’m going to buy them. Excellent, unusual take on powers, awesome car, kick-ass, flawed heroine, and a villain who is believable and unexpected. Yay!

Recommendation: Good for the UF unbeliever and the UF fan alike. A lighter read, but the world-building is well-handled and the writing is enjoyable. Yes.

The Sword-Edged Blonde, by Alex Bledsoe: One of my World Fantasy goodies, which was amusing timing. This was actually on my to-buy list. For the girl who cut her spec-fic teeth on David Gemmell, this was an excellent new offering to the Heroic Fantasy shelves. There’s just enough of everything in here: world building, humor, angst, modern voice, tension.

Recommendation: Yep. A fun adult read. Get this for the teenager who thinks books are adult/for girls/silly/old-fashioned. It isn’t YA, and there are adult situations, but really? NOTHING the kid hasn’t been exposed to already, and I’d bet this would get a reluctant kid interested in reading more spec-fic.

Bad Moon Rising, by Jonathan Mayberry: I saw Mayberry on several Dragon*Con panels last year, so I knew ahead of time that he knows his folklore and monster facts. Sure enough: these are good, old-fashioned, European-based, nasty-as-hell monsters, wrapped up with Southern influences and Pop Culture. I’d really like more horror to be like this: grisly, psychological and spiritual.

Recommendation: Want horror, but are tired of the slashers, the toothless vampires and the shock-effects? Bad Moon Rising is a thick, solid book in every way, but Mayberry works all of the myth and history in without letting the book drag, and without talking down to his readers. Yes.

Moonheart, by Charles de Lint: As mentioned above, I’m prejudiced about this author. There are very, very few authors who get that automatic head-of-the-line privilege. (I have been disappointed once or twice, but it has never been enough to actually irritate me.)

That being said: Moonheart may be one of de Lint’s best, or at least: best of what I’ve read so far. Given my feelings about Greenmantle and Someplace to be Flying, that’s pretty good. Mystical, dark, terrifying and magical, yet grounded solidly in the real world. Fairytale creatures and salt of the earth humans with surprisingly similar natures.

Moonheart got a little too close, to be honest. At a couple of points, I had to put the book down, because he might as well have reached into my own dreams and nightmares and pulled things out. I read all of his books slowly; this one was read a few pages at a time, until the end. Then I couldn’t put it down. Even disregarding the magic and mysticism, this deserves to be read slowly, simply for the humanism and understanding of human nature.

Recommendation: Time-traveling bards and gangsters, what’s not to love? A very good place to start, without the built-up history of Newford books. Worth hunting down and savoring.

You’ve had the good…Now, the “what the hell?”

Highborn, by Yvonne Navarro: Seriously, I need help here, people. I couldn’t get through 1 chapter of this book. In order of occurrence: Sigh, Eyeroll, Facepalm, Headdesk, Shudder, Skim, Close Book.

Why do I feel like I must be missing something here? I can read bad fiction, my shelves have their share of guilty pleasures. My mom liked the book. I never have such a strong reaction. So, here’s your chance: Convince me that I’m missing something, and I’ll go back and try again.

So, there we have it. The last month of my reading life, minus the e-books. But, since my e-reader is in CA, you don’t get reviews on any of those today!

Currently Reading:

Act of Will, by A.J. Hartley
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Firefly Rain, by Richard Dansky
The latest Strahan-edited “The Best Of”
City and the City, by China Mieville (Seriously, I’ve been poking at this one for a year. It’s my at-work book, which may have been a bad choice.)
A Very Large stack of magazines
Slushpiles for Crossed Genres AND 20Spec
A Very Large Metaphorical Pile of e-books for a Bizarro reprint anthology

Hmmm…I’m out of Terry Pratchett. This cannot be allowed to stand.

*I do have the slight worry that anthologies and magazines compete for a very similar market. I also wonder if anthologies won’t, eventually, either replace magazines or become merged almost entirely with them. More on that later. Maybe.

** Paranormal Romance is fine, but not for me, thanks. Trust me: the alpha werewolf is *not* a good boyfriend metaphor. If you doubt me…I dated a psychological carbon copy of the Crusader/Alpha Wolf (yes, he got both sides) cliche. Do. Not. Want.

***This automatic pass may need to be censored, however. Weird things happen when I read de Lint’s books, and, on top of that, I can’t really put some of them down, which plays havoc with my work schedule!

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